“I didn’t answer him. All I did was, I got up and went over and looked out the window. I felt so lonesome all of a sudden, I almost wished I was dead.”
Holden Caufield, the protagonist in J.D. Salinger’s 1951 classic of teen angst, The Catcher in the Rye, was hardly the first depressed teen. Teen moodiness, anxiety and depression are so common that they are becomming cliché.
That said, anxiety and depression among people aged 12-20 is very real and on the rise, with more than one in nine reporting that they had experienced a major depressive episode, according to a 2016 study.
I often hear from parents that they were slow to recognize their teenage children were suffering from depression, which is understandable because the symptoms look a lot like the ordinary torments of normal puberty. Indeed, the signs of depression read like Holden Caufield’s life story: feelings of sadness, hopelessness, irritability, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, feelings of worthlessness, social isolation, extreme sensitivity to rejection, and cloudy thinking.
Depressed teens may also experience changes in sleep patterns, experience low energy and a lack of initiative, lose their appetite, become restless, lose interest in school, neglect their appearance and complain about various ailments.
Most parents like you and me remember feeling some of those emotions themselves during their teen years.
It is not surprising that teenagers, whose bodies are maturing but whose brains are awash in hormones and whose social lives may be steeped in drama, may act irrationally.
However, it is a mistake to dismiss all teen behavior as a phase.
Experience has shown that even teenagers who outwardly disdain their parents, actually crave their love and expect them to set boundaries and provide guidance. And they also really do want their parents to recognize their troubles and intervene, even if they say the opposite.
So it is incumbent upon parents to pay close attention to those symptoms and try to determine what might be a sign of trouble.
Certainly some symptoms present big red flags. Teens who use alcohol and drugs, who attempt to harm themselves physically or begin making a suicide plan are emotionally screaming for help. Parents must immediately seek help for their children to climb out of the abyss.
More generally, the long list of symptoms are “normal” in teenagers if they are occasional and moderate in severity. Protracted or severe bouts of sadness, hopelessness, etc. should be considered warning signs to seek help.
In the end, the best analgesic for teen depression is honest, respectful discussion with the people who love and care for them most – their parents. When you talk to them and really take time to listen and understand they will feel that love – even if they don\’t admit it.
If you’re not sure whether your child is feeling anxiety and depression, talk to them! No teenager was ever prompted to commit suicide by their parents loving concern.